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Childcare problems cost mums in England £3.4 million in lost earnings each day

  • Save the Children analysis reveals an estimated 89,000 mothers of children under five are blocked from finding work
  • Lost earnings total £1.2 billion a year
  • Charity calls on the government to deliver a childcare system that is affordable, easy to use and fits around families’ lives

Photography of case study Bianca can be downloaded here

Animated and static infographics can be downloaded here

The childcare system is costing mothers in England £3.4 million a day because it prevents them from working, according to new analysis from Save the Children. That’s £1.2 billion every year [i].

The charity estimates there are around 89,000 mothers of children under the age of five who would like to get back into work but say that childcare is the main barrier to doing so.

Steven McIntosh, Director of UK Poverty Policy, Advocacy and Campaigns said:

“Mothers describe a childcare system that feels stacked against them. They tell us it’s nightmare to navigate with barriers to work at every turn. The result is an astounding loss in earnings, hitting families already battling to make ends meet. The financial pressure and stress that creates at home is never good for parents or their children. It’s time to make childcare work for families.”

Research shows childcare issues are the number one barrier to work for parents with young children [ii]. Despite recent reforms, Save the Children says that parents are still facing sky-high childcare bills and struggling with a complicated system – with almost half of parents saying they have no idea or are confused about what support they should get. The charity says that they are left unable to access the childcare they need to work, which can tip families into hardship.

Bianca, 36, is a Mum from East London with two boys aged three and seven. After working full time for ten years, childcare issues forced her to give up her job as an education team leader in a college. Bianca said:

I absolutely loved my job and I could see myself progressing. It was the cost of childcare that made me give it up, because if I’d had to pay for my younger son to be in nursery full-time that would have been a massive chunk of my salary. We made sure we lived within our means but of course you lose out on some things. 

“There are a lot of people who have a lot to give to the economy, but childcare is such a massive barrier. The only way you can jump over that barrier is if you’re willing to shell out a lot of money and have little left for three or four years.

“We did make that choice to have children, but we shouldn’t be penalised for it, and that’s how it feels at the moment.”

Research shows that the average take home pay for a mum working full time is just over £20,000 and almost £45,000 for a couple both working full time. Even taking into account free childcare hours and government subsidies, the cost of childcare for two children can still be more than £8,000 a year [iii]. That is 39% of the mother’s take home pay - twice as much as she pays in tax. Parents say that childcare bills are still too high, with many claiming it costs more than their mortgage or rent, or that it doesn’t make financial sense to go back to work.

Today’s report, ‘Lost Opportunities, Lost Incomes’, presents new analysis by Save the Children of the Labour Force Survey [iv] and Family Resources Survey [v].

While some mothers choose not to work during their children’s early years, many would like to, and these findings show the system is failing to provide enough help, despite significant reforms. A mother in an average family with young children could be losing between £3,400 and £11,400 a year because they can’t get into work or aren’t able to increase working hours.

The report also shows that families of pre-school children face the biggest financial crunch. Last year, half of families with young children struggled to make ends meet – higher than families with older children.

These lost earnings can have a huge impact on children. The evidence shows that the stress and pressure affect not only children’s quality of life but also their ability to learn at the most important time in their lives – their critical pre-school years of development.

Dr Elizabeth Kilbey is a Consultant Clinical Psychologist in the NHS, and spent 15 years working with children. She works on Channel 4’s ‘The Secret Life Of…’ series as one of the experts watching and making sense of what we see the children doing, and what it all means. Previously she worked as a psychologist in a Sure Start Centre.

Dr. Kilbey said: “I’ve seen first-hand the immense pressure serious money worries can put on young families. I’ve seen this lead to stress, depression and the breakup of relationships – everything you don’t want a child growing up in. This can hit young children at this incredibly vital time of their lives. An effective childcare system would play a massive role in putting this right.”

To address the problems of cost, complexity and accessibility in the childcare system which are preventing parents from working, Save the Children is calling on new government ministers responsible for childcare to urgently set out the next steps to delivering a childcare system in England that is high quality, affordable, easy to use and fits around families’ lives.

Save the Children is calling on parents to sign our petition to let the Government know reform is needed to fix the childcare system.


  • [i] This analysis and all figures can be found in Lost Opportunities, Lost Incomes: Why families need further reform of childcare and early education to help families get on (Save the Children) January 2018.
  • [ii] Childcare and early years survey of parents in England 2017 (Department for Education)
  • [iii] Annual survey of hours and earning (Office of National Statistics) and 2017 Childcare Survey (Family and Childcare Trust)
  • [iv] The Labour Force Survey is a study of the employment circumstances of the UK population.
  • [v] The Family Resources survey is an annual report that provides facts and figures about the incomes and living circumstances of households and families in the UK.




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